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Monday, April 30, 2007

Home at Last

We arrived home safe and sound yesterday. We managed to keep the jet lag to a minimum by an old trick of forcing ourselves to stay away through two long flights. By the time we were on the west coast, we were sufficiently exhausted to sleep all the way through the night and wake up totally on West Coast time. It doesn't work perfectly, but minimizes the amount of jet lag we experience. By Thursday or Friday we'll be a bit strung out, but it should last only a couple of days. Until then, I can fake coherence.

Obviously nothing of substance took place while I was gone. The Oregonian seems to have had an article extolling the management of PERS and lavishing praise on the Board, which has taken a large deficit and converted it to a $1.75 billion surplus. No mention is made of the fact that the unions predicted this would happen by a market change without any reform. Surprise, surprise, the stock market has been on a roll since 2003 with new records being broken daily. Little wonder the PERS fund is as healthy as it is. Now, if the public could only understand that it was market forces that put PERS in the hole in the first place, not outsized public employee pensions. But I'll be dead before the Oregonian or the public makes that admission.

While I was gone, I decided to change my image a la London style. You can see the results of this change here. It just seem appropriate for me so that I can continue to remain low profile. Sorry for the image quality. No flash permitted and I didn't have a tripod handy. Even Photoshop couldn't clean up the blur, but you'll get the point anyway.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Who are You

At the suggestion of others, I'm interested in polling all the non-PERS individuals who read my blog. So here's your chance to respond. If you've already voted, don't vote again.

Now that we know about PERS members and retirees, let's find out about the others who read this blog
MSM Journalist
Related to a PERS member
Have no PERS affiliation
none of these
pollcode.com free polls

So Quiet In Here

You can almost hear a pin drop. The only news of substance I have to report prior to my departure is that the PERS Retiree Focus Group has had one online query. It concentrated on the current layout of the PERS website and how and whether PERS should make information more readily available. The group offered some suggestions of what other information would be helpful and some navigation hints. These were taken seriously and some reorganization of the website will be forthcoming. The group was also asked about the desireability of making our names public or at least available to each other. Obviously you know my feeling about that subject, but my opinion was not shared by a majority of the (unknown) group. So, we will continue to operate ignorant of each other's identity. (We don't communicate in a forum; we don't even see what each other writes. It's not really a focus group in the strict sense as it is 9 independent voices providing input to PERS. I wish it were a real focus group where we are all involved simultaneously. I also wish I were a billionaire :-)

Monday, April 16, 2007

On The Road Again

I'm getting ready to take another road trip this week. I'll be out of blogging range until April 30th. I'll probably have internet access, but at the rates charged, I probably won't be posting mundane items. If a major development occurs, I'll try to find time to blog about it, but this isn't my highest priority. It hasn't been very often that I've had travel time without children and with a housesitter. So, my wife and I will be trundling off for a quick jump across the pond to visit friends in the UK. Retirement *is* good.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

This is Us

Here's a new poll to gauge the readership of this blog. Please take the poll below. To make it accurate, please answer the question only once. Thanks.

What is your PERS retirement status
Active Tier 1
Inactive Tier 1
Window Retiree, old actuarial tables
Window Retiree, new actuarial tables
Window Retiree, "Lookback"
Post-Window Retiree, new actuarial tables
Post-Window Retiree, "lookback"
Tier 2 or Tier 3 active
OUS ORP active
pollcode.com free polls

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Another Round of Blues

Over the past few posts (except my April Fool's post), we've been exploring the plight of a narrow group of retirees whose benefit was calculated on the basis of the "lookback" - a legislatively designed method to ensure IRS compliance when the new actuarial tables went into effect on July 1, 2003 (HB 2004, 2003 Legislature). You can review previous entries to see how this particular calculation has led to some perverse outcomes for retirees subject to the Strunk/Eugene remediation efforts. The short version is that when the Strunk/Eugene adjustments are made, the "lookback" no longer gives the best retirement estimate. Instead, retirees are finding that they have significantly higher at-retirement account balances and are re-retiring under a straight Money Match calculation using the higher balance. While at first blush this might seem to be very good news (and most people in that situation thought that would be the case), the fact is that the higher account balances don't translate into higher retirement benefits. Instead, the higher balances become subject to the new mortality tables, which are considerably less generous than the tables they replaced. Consequently, retirees who find themselves in this situation are faced with benefits lower than they were receiving under the original "lookback". In some cases, the benefit cut is significant - several hundred dollars per month. When a spate of these started showing up in my mailbox, I walked through the calculations in the instances where I had all the relevant data. Alas, there is nothing wrong with PERS' calculations. I suggested that affected individuals contact the PERS Coalition through its attorney, Greg Hartman. Several did and this resulted in the PERS Coalition publishing a brief response on the AFSCME web site. The short answer is that while these cases are unfortunate, they do not appear to be litigable, or at least the PERS Coalition isn't going to litigate them. I don't know how many retirees are in this boat. I heard from 16 individuals. In the time period where this effect could possibly occur, there were a total of about 5000 retirements. Based on my own experience and communications, I would say about half those retirements were "lookback." Of those, I'd guess that approximately half will experience what my correspondents have experienced. The key factors will be age at retirement, retirement option, and percentage of account in variable. Younger individuals are less likely to experience this than retirees 60 and over. This is because the mortality factor changes are more evident for older retirees than the younger ones.

On an unrelated topic, I want to alert everyone to another "quiet" period for this blog. I'm leaving on April 21st for London and returning April 30. I will have my laptop with me, but I don't know how easy it will be for me to have wireless access. Our friends don't have it, so I may have to depend on finding a handy Starbucks or equivalent. Given the current exchange rate, I'll probably ration my time online. So, don't expect too much news from this source during that time period.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Party At The End of the World

I've returned from my Spring Break party at the end of the world (or at least at the tip of it) and found a piece of spectacular news awaiting. It seems that the PERB has decided to withdraw its complaints in the Arken and Robinson cases and has joined forces with the PERS Coalition. From the looks of what they're doing, they finally understand what the Supreme Court ruled in Strunk and plan to give "window retirees" everything they're entitled to receive - adjusted current benefits, restored COLA and the like. A spokesman from one of the PERB's law firms Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe said: "It took us quite awhile to parse the wording of the majority opinion in the Strunk et al case, but just last week it dawned on us that the Supreme Court wrote the words "fixed benefit" and said that because it was legislatively determined, it cannot be in error. Therefore, we plan to re-remediate the collection efforts and turn it into a method by which PERS repays all the retirees for lost COLAS and any associated expenses. Because the mechanism is already in place, we will first adjust those members who've already been invoiced and then we will address those members whose accounts have not been touched. It is a complex task, but we should be able to complete all account adjustments by 2009." This seems like such an anticlimactic end to such a long and exhausting process, and I'm a little disappointed at how easy this has been to resolve. I wonder if the Governor was involved in bringing the PERB to its senses. In any case, be sure to mark this day on your calendar as the day this exclusive news appeared, just in case PERS changes its mind tomorrow. [And in case you haven't noticed, do check today's date for important clues about the veracity of the information contained in this post.]